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Promoting Hartford during Challenging Times

Hartford Cares —Leadership Greater Hartford Takes Important Role in Promoting Hartford After a Crisis of Confidence

Hartford was in a crisis of morale and morality. LGH collaborated with other groups to organize a candlelight vigil in Bushnell Park to foster healing and hope in Hartford.  First Experience Communications was asked to handle all public relations and marketing communications for the initiative. In only three weeks, Hartford Cares was born.

Case Study


In the wake of a series of violent episodes in Connecticut’s capital city, which culminated on June 6, 2008 with the gruesome hit-and-run of 78-year-old Angel Torres, Leadership Greater Hartford (LGH) was called into action by city leaders. Mayor Eddie Perez asked the non-profit group to organize a community response “to address the senseless acts of violence and callousness that plagued Hartford and its reputation.” A streetlight surveillance camera had captured the video of Torres being tossed like a ragdoll by a hit-and-run driver and the apparent callousness of passersby, who appeared to do nothing, as he lay motionless in the street. Front-page headline in the city’s largest newspaper, the Hartford Courant, blared “SO INHUMANE” and the city’s chief of police reportedly lamented that, “we no longer have a moral compass.” Major networks and newspapers across the country carried the story of “The Day Traffic Did Not Stop in Hartford.”


(Click image to enlarge)



(Click image to enlarge)



(Click image to enlarge)


Hartford was in a crisis of morale and morality. LGH collaborated with other groups to organize a candlelight vigil in Bushnell Park to foster healing and hope in Hartford. First Experience Communications was asked to handle all public relations and marketing communications for the initiative. In only three weeks, Hartford Cares was born.


We quickly researched print and online coverage of violence in Hartford, identifying pervasive opinion and themes. We also met with the Mayor’s office and LGH planning committee to identify positive, uplifting stories of citizens helping one another to bring a balance to the prevailing negative perception of the city and the people who live there. Since this initiative was being “built from scratch” we closely monitored communication from LGH and the Mayor’s office as plans developed for the candlelight vigil and longer-term goals for an on-going initiative were established, so we could incorporate the “latest thinking” into our communications strategy.

Even though we were working in “crisis mode” with a tight 3-week timeframe, short-term objectives were developed with the understanding that this was not a “one-shot deal.” Research clearly showed that Hartford’s problems didn’t happen overnight and a single event was not going to solve them. The vigil was a starting point to engage the community and cultivate personal commitments from people to do what they could to make things better. The “crisis” would be addressed, but longevity was the key to success. Our primary goal would be a long-term shared vision where “individuals would take personal responsibility to address the senseless acts of violence and callousness that plague Hartford and its reputation.” Established objectives:

  1. Host a candlelight vigil that brings people together to foster healing and hope in Hartford before the end of June.

  2. Encourage community conversation on what can be done to make a lasting difference and provide a forum for individuals to make personal commitments.

  3. In three days, develop a name, along with a tagline, that will serve as the identifier for the overall initiative and its current and future programs.

  4. By the end of the week, create a logo that reflects the overall initiative and serves as its visual identity.

  5. Develop a promotional flyer and ad with a week’s lead-time to distribute, place and post.

  6. Gain support of media outlets to promote and cover the initiative and candlelight vigil.

Identified Target Audiences:

  • Residents and people who work in the Greater Hartford area

  • High school guidance counselors, School superintendents in Greater Hartford

  • High school students and their parents

  • Community-based agencies throughout the region

  • Local Business leaders and officials



The identity developed for the initiative, “Hartford Cares,” is positive and underscores the reality that there are many more acts of kindness performed by people from the Greater Hartford area than acts of violence and callousness. The tagline: “Conversations, Connections and Commitments to Build a Greater Hartford” is a proactive call to action that leverages the familiarity of the “Greater Hartford” geographical reference while giving it new meaning.


The Hartford Cares logo was designed to show the “heart” in Hartford, by replacing the small “a” with a stylized heart symbol.


The name and logo were used in all promotional materials as well as a banner that was printed and hung on the stage, t-shirts and a “Wall of Caring” where people were invited to write their own personal commitments describing what they planned to do to help build a greater Hartford.


A media outreach meeting was held with Hartford Courant editors, who agreed to provide free ad space, run an op-ed piece, cover the event and serve as a sponsoring partner for future Hartford Cares programs. TV and radio contacts were also made – all were receptive.


Key messaging was crafted for our target audiences that promoted the candlelight vigil as a venue to foster healing and hope in Hartford, while introducing the idea that “as citizens of one shared community with one common future, each of us must make a commitment to act now.” This was used in the flyer, ad and media alert.


To attract a larger crowd and uplift the spirit of the evening, music, song, dance and poetry were planned featuring some of the area’s finest artists, including the Hartford Symphony. Ordinary citizens with inspirational stories of how they helped or were helped by others were recruited as speakers to share their stories at the vigil to give people role models and ideas for their own personal commitments. The night of the vigil, more than two-dozen non-profit organizations had agreed to staff tables to talk with people about what they do and explain the types of volunteer opportunities available. We also taped interviews of people in the crowd to capture their feelings, stories and personal commitments. This was later edited into a video to engage audiences prior to other Hartford Cares events planned in the following months. We leveraged relationships with printers and vendors to get discounted and pro bono services.


More than 1,500 people came together at the Hartford Cares vigil to stand against acts of violence and callousness that plague the city. The two-dozen non-profit organizations with table exhibits signed up hundreds of volunteers that evening. Many attendees wrote their personal commitments on the Wall of Caring. LGH received names of people interested in their leadership programs and in staying involved with the Hartford Cares initiative. All major networks ran the story and the Hartford Courant’s front page feature story with full-color photo headlined: “A SHOW OF CARE: Hundreds of Hartford Residents Turn Out Against Violence.”


The vigil’s success brought continued support from the Mayor and the promise of sponsorship money from some companies and foundations. Plans to build on the initial “event” moved forward – all programs were free to attendees:​

  • 50 students from Leadership Greater Hartford’s High Hopes program held a peace march through one of the most troubled neighborhoods in north Hartford, ending at a church with a program of commitment

  • 200 students from all three Hartford high schools marched for peace in November

  • A Hartford Cares human needs forum was planned for early 2009 to bring 150-200 nonprofit organizations together to address the most pressing basic human issues facing Greater Hartford

To date, Hartford Cares has engaged thousands of people, with hundreds having made personal commitments to finding at least one way to make a difference.

Contact us for a free consultation to learn how we can help your organization.

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